NE Minneapolis brewery calls it quits

Are we reaching peak beer in the Twin Cities?

Rare is the day when some entrepreneur doesn’t reveal some plan to open up a tap room and rare is the day when some city doesn’t see it as a path to revitalize a city block. There have been amazing success stories and the beer drinkers of the Twin Cities have never had it better.

Still, one does have to wonder how many different beers the Cities can support.

It’ll have one less brand. NorthGate Brewing announced it’s done today, closing without notice.

There’s no indication what the unforeseen circumstances are, although the owners had announced in December they were ready to sell.

Overall, things seemed to be going well for Adam Sjogren, Todd Slininger, and Tuck Carruthers, who made the leap from homebrewing to commercial brewing in 2012, moving to a larger brewery location just four years ago.

By all accounts, it was great beer and a credit to the NE Minneapolis brewing scene.

In its story on the brewery’s pending sale in December, however, Growler Magazine noted the pace of closings seemed significant, but not catastrophic for beer fans.

This year also saw several breweries close their doors for good, including South Fork Brewing in Delano, Wenonah Brewing in Goodview, and Sídhe Brewing in St. Paul. A fourth brewery, Harriet Brewing, closed in late November 2016, and it looks like a fifth brewery, F-Town in Faribault, is in for a massive facelift in the near future (though F-Town co-founder Travis Temke is currently working on opening a new brewery and restaurant in St. Paul using F-Town’s equipment).

These sales and closures may fuel speculation that Minnesota, a state which has been relatively insulated from brewery contraction up to this point, has reached some sort of saturation point. But Minnesota’s rate of brewery openings and closures over the past five years is in right in line with national trends.

(h/t: Paul Tosto)

  • wjc

    I’ve been wondering about this for a while. On one hand, if the local breweries can take only a small percentage of sales away from the “Big Beer” firms, then they should be able to do OK. The problem seems to be having the resources and the business plan to get you there.

    When I drink beer, I primarily drink Minnesota brews (Not just Twin Cities, because Bent Paddle and other breweries outside the Metro are turning out some great product). I have never seen the NorthGate products as far as I am aware. A product won’t “sell itself”. You need to do some quality marketing.

    A new spot called Venn Brewing (https://www.vennbrewing.com/) opened in the 46th / Hiawatha transit station. I hope they do well, but it seems like parking there might be an issue. Perhaps, they have some plans for how to get people there when the lot is full, but I haven’t heard much from them and I live in the neighborhood.

    We may also see a similar contraction with distilleries, though a lot of MN distillers seem to have their products stocked at the big box retailers. I’ve got to say though, that the Target liquor store in Roseville (at least when I visited it in December) did a really poor job of selling the Minnesota spirits. They were all displayed on a shelf behind the register, so it was very hard to see the products and the prices.

    • RBHolb

      The parking situation is why Venn does not serve food, although you can bring your own or have it delivered there. If they were a “restaurant,” they would have had to have more dedicated parking spots.

      • Vince Tuss

        The parking situation is why the space sat empty for years. Four, I think?

        • RBHolb

          Something like that.

          I think at one point the building’s owners were talking to Caribou or Starbucks, but that idea fell through because the coffee moguls wanted a drive-through.

    • QuietBlue

      You’re definitely right about the marketing; it’s just a more crowded market now than it used to be. Being a locally brewed beer was a unique selling point a decade ago, but now it’s easy to get lost among all of the others. As for taprooms, I don’t know if Minnesota or the metro area in general are oversaturated yet, but I think Minneapolis itself might be getting there.

    • Postal Customer

      Target’s liquor stores have very high prices. They seem to be a convenience-only thing, and I have never spent money there.

      As for marketing, well, it’s gotta be a tough job to get your beer on the shelves, let alone into bars. I’ve also never seen Northgate beers anywhere.

      • TBH

        They are all over the metro, but I’ll admit that I don’t quite recall what their bottles/cans look like. I’ve seen taps around. Take this map with a grain of salt considering they might not have been putting a big focus on updating distribution data and their website, but it is a good visualization: http://www.northgatebrew.com/beer-finder/

  • TBH

    I still see most local taprooms fairly filled whenever I’m around so I’m not entirely convinced we are at a saturation point – there seems to be more and more people every day similar to my parents. They would drink Miller Lite or Mich Golden their entire lives and have slowly turned that into a preference towards local craft beer over the course of a few years.

    Something was contributing to the demise of Northgate, but I don’t know what. I have heard that a good portion of their staff resigned before news of a pending sale was public, but I’m unsure what writing they saw on the walls and it does no one any good to speculate at this point.

    I’m going to try and track down a Wall’s End Brown Ale on the shelf tonight after work before they all disappear!

  • joetron2030

    It should be noted that a new brewery is going into the space that used to be home to Harriett.

    https://growlermag.com/northern-brewer-alums-opening-arbeiter-brewing-in-south-minneapolis/

  • Dan

    I liked their beer, met one of the guys, seemed pretty nice, he came out of the NBA (Nordeast Brewers Alliance). The original location didn’t have a taproom, just growler sales, but you could find NorthGate on tap especially around Northeast… not sure if that’s still the case, as I don’t go out or drink much beer these days. The newer location had a cool taproom, different from most — set up like an English pub, to go along with their main beer styles. They did some really nice stuff in the ESB style. It was great to have a place like that which focused on some traditional stuff rather than the style everyone else features, added a little variety to the scene. So, a bit of a loss IMO.

    As to what it all means, we have no idea why they’re closing, so it’s kind of empty speculation. I remember the restaurant Heidi’s 2.0 closed shortly after I’d had a great meal there, turned out the owners were married, and were splitting up. Not saying the Northgate guys are getting a divorce, just saying with a small business, could be a million things that have nothing to do with your assumptions.

    Edited to add: love the Hitchhiker’s Guide reference, great note to go out on 🙂

  • Veronica

    No matter the product or market, businesses that aren’t well-run don’t last. Even (and especially) if there was a lot of income, some missteps can become costly very quickly and sink the ship.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    One of the routes I take to where I work in NE Minneapolis takes me past the NorthGate location. When I saw this headline I wondered if it was them. Their location didn’t seem the best. I would expect there business took a hit over the past few months as the city starts major road reconstruction in the neighborhood. Also the emptying of the Be the Match building across the street couldn’t have helped.

  • BJ

    How many of these places try to run like a bar, I look at the ones I like the best (I try and go to a new one every couple of months) and they don’t try and be Surly. The best in my books try and be the neighborhood bar.

  • Gary F

    Whenever I’ve made the comment that not all these guys can stay in business and that the market it saturated, I get poo-poo’d by the beer nuts.

    I love it. If I were a younger man and not watching my calories, this would be awesome.

    So, for years now, I only buy Schell’s and Summit products when I purchase at a liquor store. Just finished my last Schmaltz Alt the other day. When the bubble bursts on this, I want my Summit and Schells to still be around.

  • lusophone

    It seems a little precipitous to sound the alarm because a couple of breweries close. Restaurants close all the time and you don’t constantly hear about a restaurant bubble in the Twin Cities. There are still breweries opening. joetron2030 mentioned that a new brewery is going into Harriets’s old space and just down the train line is Venn that opened late last year.

    • I met a guy a few weeks ago who is closing down his operation in Hugo and wants to reopen in Oakdale as a tap room and music venue — he and partners are musicians. That idea would KILL in an area that desperately needs that sort of thing. Alas, he doesn’t yet have the capital.

      These sorts of things tend to attract people who started as a hobby and migrated to a business. Some of them take off, of course, but not many survive long term because there’s a lot of difference between having a hobby and running a business.

  • Mark2309

    This has nothing to do with “peak beer” and everything to do with Tod Fyten, the supposed buyer (and the short guy in the middle of the picture that was taken at the Winter Beer Dabbler last Saturday). In the local beer industry there aren’t too many who are more shaddy than Tod, so not surprising he already managed to run Northgate into the ground.

    • Dan

      Never heard of him before, but here is some updated info:

      https://growlermag.com/northgate-brewing-selling-new-owners/

      According to multiple sources close to NorthGate, the brewery quietly went up for sale earlier this year—a fact confirmed by Tuck Carruthers, NorthGate’s director of operations Friday evening. “Over the past several months, Adam, Todd, and I realized that we have taken NorthGate Brewing as far as we can. In order to grow the business into a successful and sustainable brewery in northeast Minneapolis, we have realized that we need to bring in new owners with more experience.

      “We’ve come to the decision to bring in Tod Fyten of Fyten Capital and Fyten Family Breweries. At this time, we’re still in the process of transitioning so we cannot provide any more detail.”

      Tod Fyten is the owner of the Stagecoach, Fytenburg, and St. Croix brands of beers. Fyten’s current brewing operation is based in Mantorville, Minnesota. It’s unclear what Fyten has planned with regards to the NorthGate brand. Reached by email on Saturday morning, he confirmed news of the sale but declined to provide any further details until the transition of ownership is finalized.